Saturday, September 02, 2017

SM - Rehearsal Space I

I suspect this has been one of the easiest SM gigs out there. Weeks have gone by, and I haven't had anything to blog about. My only job has been to find rehearsal space, and for this show, it's been easy. They're starting rehearsals with "beat work," intensely working short vignettes within the play's act-long scenes to determine each character's objective at the moment, what obstacles are in the way, and what the character is doing to overcome them. It's interesting analytical work, but there's not much for a stage manager to do. They're not up on their feet moving, so my primary responsibility -- record the blocking -- is delayed. The stage manager's opinion of a character motivation and portrayal is irrelevant. Knowing that I'll have opinions that are unwanted and unwelcome, I reasoned that it's best for all involved if I don't attend beat work.

So where are they doing this work? There's no need to book a theater or big rehearsal space, so I've been finding conference rooms in public libraries. Most of the libraries in the county have online reservation systems, so I can quickly find out if a room is available and reserve it for the cast.

Rehearsal is called for Monday, Labor Day, and the libraries won't be open, so I'm abusing my employee privileges to get us into one of my libraries that evening. I'm looking forward to seeing their progress.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

SM - Audition Chuckle

I mentioned last post that I enjoyed all the actors' work in auditions. That's true. Not that I'd put anything negative about it here, but I really don't have anything negative to say.

But there is something that struck me as funny.

Some of the actors auditioning for "George" have obviously been influenced by Richard Burton's performance, and would try on the accent. It came through most strongly when addressing Martha.

"Mah-tha."

Late in the evening, my brain flipped it to "Mothra."
I thought it was fitting, Mothra.
Well, why don't you choose, Mothra?
Mothra's going to run things...
Mothra's going to put on some rhythm she understands...
George and Mothra. Interesting premise for a kaiju production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I wonder if the Albee estate would object?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SM - Phoning disappointment

The duty fell to me to call the people who were not cast. I wasn't expecting that -- neither of the SM books I read mentioned it.

It suuuuuucked.

If I was lucky, I could leave a voicemail, and rattle off my short message. "This is Don, the stage manager for 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.'" I want to thank you for auditioning for the show. As you saw, there was a small but very talented group of people vying for the parts, and I'm afraid that you weren't selected. I want to let you know how much I enjoyed watching you audition..." [and I was sincere here: I did enjoy everyone, and I tried to say something quick about an individual, like their character choices, their timing, their instinct for balance in blocking and movement] "...and I wish the best in future auditions and shows."

Of course, this was derailed when anyone actually answered their phone, and I had to stumble through this as a dialogue.

After I'd started calling, I was given some good suggestions for delivering this message. Basically, it was a longer version of what I'd been saying, but with more information about the company, upcoming shows in the season, etc. Too much for a voicemail or a quick phone call. It was good info, but I bet little of it will be retained, given that the thesis of the conversation is "Bad News: You Didn't Get It." Probably even my sympathy and praise got lost in the disappointment. I'd much rather send an email. Not only do I have more careful editorial control of the message, but I can pack extra info. Sure, the recipient gets hit with the rejection and disappointment, but the things I say to try to offset that, which probably get ignored verbally, can be read again later, and the good information can be saved and consulted again.

It seems it's this company's practice to always call. I get it: there's a personal touch. And I seem to have inadvertently rocked a boat by suggesting to a board member that, if I keep with this SM gig, in the future I'll push back on the "call" requirement and insist on emailing. At the very least, I'll do both.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Beard

An interlude.

Facebook tells me that it is the two year anniversary of dying my beard.

Since that initial experiment with indigo, I've gone turquoise...




...ginger...



...and currently it's brown with some auburn tones.


Looks a little scraggly at the moment because I'm seeing how I feel about growing it a bit longer. I've learned over the years that purple and green wash out in a couple days, while turquoise covers well and hangs on. Some of the grays in my beard resist the dyes, but they add highlights that make the earth tones look more natural. The white in my hair, however, sucks up henna and becomes a shiny copper.

Reds mess with my "season," and a lot of the clothes that looked good with my salt-and-pepper-but-mostly-salt hairs clash with the copper browns and auburns. Now that I've got a good base of the brown, I'm thinking next I'll drop some pure indigo on it again to deepen the black and add a touch of blue.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

SM - Auditions

Last weekend, I had my first experience being on the other side of auditions. I don't think I did too badly, but I felt like I was scrambling the entire time.

The director asked me to make sure that everyone read at least twice. That was the easy part: a simple grid in my notebook let me track the number of times an actor was called up. Then I began to try keeping closer track of who read with whom. I'm sure I could analyze my notes and pull that information out, but it's not clear at a glance. My task was further complicated by one actor auditioning for both of the female roles. Nor do I have very clear evaluative comments: only some pluses and minuses next to names when I had positive and negative thoughts, only occasionally elucidated by a word or two of explanation.

Consequently, I don't think I was much help in the casting committee discussions. Fortunately, the rest of the committee had good observations with specific notes. I just drew on my experience leading discussions toward decisions, watching for groupthink, logical errors, and un-examined assumptions. A few times I would throw in contrary interpretations and observations to test the strength of emerging decisions.

In the end, I think the casting decisions were strong. I remarked to a friend that, although auditions were lightly attended, the casting decision was difficult, and I believe we could have capably cast the show with 4 completely different individuals.

The auditions hammered home for me an important fact about stage managing: quick, efficient note-taking. I'm a little nervous about this. Luckily, I've recorded blocking in a script before -- albeit from the actor's side - but I'm sure it will take me some time before I feel really comfortable in my note-taking prowess.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

SM - Photocopying

My first practical experience as a stage manager suggests that the job is largely about photocopying.

I had two photocopying chores up front: to copy the auditions scenes (simple enough), and to create a rehearsal script.

Knowing it was fruitless, I visited Kinko's to see if they could transform the 5⅛ x 7¾, double-sided pages into full 8½ x 11 single-sided pages. No dice. Same thing at Staples, although there were nice enough to cut the binding off for me so I could do it myself at my work copier. (Employees can do b&w copies for only 2¢ per page.) It took some finagling -- and an email to our copier rental company -- to figure out the enlargement settings (let the copier do it for you automatically) and how to make it turn double-sided into single, but then it was smooth sailing. I stood by the copier, transferring each page from the copier onto a stack face-up, so that my pages were placed in reverse order.

My rehearsal script, with the lines numbered for easy reference.

With the pages in reverse order, I could punch holes on the right side of the page, so that in the binder, the script is on the left, leaving the back of the next page free for me to take notes on.

In The Back Stage Guide to Stage Management, Thomas Kelly mentions entering an entire script on a computer, so that SMs can take advantage of larger and smaller fonts to prepare cueing scripts (i.e., small fonts for when 3 pages go by with no cues; bigger fonts and more spacing to sections dense with cues; etc.). Great idea, but too time consuming for me. I did do some poking around in the sketchier parts of the Internet to see if I could find an existing electronic copy, but Dramatists Play Service and/or the Albee estate seem pretty diligent about crushing any pirated texts out there, and I stopped before my search imperiled by computer's operating system or the security of my credit cards.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

SM - Preparation

Back in March, a friend posted on Facebook that he would be stage manager for a community theater show and was looking for an assistant. I thought that might be an interesting thing to learn, and might be a way for me to dip my toe back into community theater, which I haven't done in 16 (!) years.

It was a generally good experience, and I apparently did well enough that I was asked to stage manage this friend's next show. As I've been preparing, I thought I'd dust off my blog and reflect on the process.

I checked out two books to get me started: The back stage guide to stage management and Stage manager: the professional experience--refreshed. Both books are geared toward the professional, though interestingly, the one with "professional experience" in the subtitle does give frequent nods to the amateur reader. They're arming me with a lot of information going in. Overall, stage management looks to be a lot like my job as a library' deputy director: identify the people and their roles, coordinate communications, anticipate needs, handle crises, know things. I'm excited for the challenge.

After diving into the general information, I think next up is to start assembling my tools. I've decided to do most of my record-keeping in the cloud, so I bought a Chromebook. I haven't yet decided whether to coordinate everything through my personal email address or, like the director, to create a production-specific address. I'm leaning toward the former -- I think of email addresses the same as I do of keys: the more that I have, the more problems I carry around with me and the more I have to sort through to find what I need. For the time being, I'm compromising with the Gmail trick of instant, disposable addresses, adding a "+vw" to my regular email handle.

I'll need a bag to keep my Chromebook in, as well as all the stuff I want to have with me. I have this fantasy of being able to pull from this bag anything anyone might need: Sharpie, tweezers, gaffer tape, mints, Starbucks card, etc. (I've always remembered the animated Around the World in 80 Days, each episode beginning with Fogg instructing Passepartout to pack a random assortment of items, each of which would be useful in saving them during the day's adventures.) And of course, the bag will have my rehearsal script. More on that next post.